I Saw Richard Linklater’s Boyhood and Aged 12 Years
So… I missed my 40s entirely. I went into the movie theater with Josh, expecting to finish off our date night with a late night coffee, but I emerged from the AFI’s Silver Theater with grey hair and a touch of arthritis in my hips. I’m now 52.
No, I only felt like I was 52 by the time I got out of the theater.
Mr. Linklater, if you’re reading this, it’s a long movie.
It’s long enough that at one point, I started thinking, “Holy crap, the boy still doesn’t have facial hair. According to the movie poster, he needs to end this movie with scraggly facial hair. How long does it take a teenager to grow a beard?”
So be prepared if you go — and you should go if you want to see something cool — and bring whatever you need (stadium pal?) to sit still for almost 3 hours.
So the movie was shot over a 12 year period, following the same boy, Ellar Coltrane (who is playing a character named Mason Evans Jr), from 6 to 18. It’s fiction, but because of the production schedule, you’re also seeing a real — actually many real people — age in front of your eyes. Because Ethan Hawke also ages 12 years as does Patrician Arquette and Linklater’s daughter, Lorelei (who plays Mason’s sister). And then most of the peripheral characters are frozen in time, sectioned off to where they came in and out of Mason’s life.
Which is what life is like, itself. You have the people who age with you, and you have the people that you will always remember looking a certain way or being a certain way because they fell out of your life and frozen indefinitely as a five-year-old or twelve-year-old or twenty-year-old. When I imagine old friends and ex-boyfriends, they all still have the faces they had when we lost touch, and when I encounter them on Facebook now, it’s jarring. It isn’t how I think they should look.
You end up caring more about Mason (Ellar Coltrane) because you are cognizant that this isn’t a similar-looking actor playing the main character as a child and later a young adult: it’s the same actor. Ellar’s not “acting” vulnerable as a child: he is a vulnerable, inquisitive, irresponsible child. And he’s not “acting” confused as a young adult: his fictional life mirrors his real life, and he is now 18 and on the cusp of the next stage of his life. Like his character, the actor is trying to figure out who he wants to be and what sort of person he wants to date and how to relate to his parents now that he’s no longer dependent upon them.
The movie will make you cry.
Because you can’t help but think of the people in your own life aging 12 years. Perhaps it helped that I sat in the theater with twins close to Ellar’s age when the film began, and therefore ended up thinking of my kids as preteens and teenagers and finally young adults going out into the world (while I remain like Patricia Arquette crying at the kitchen table). But even if you don’t have a boy in your life that will age into adulthood, you have yourself, and much of the film is also about the changes his parents go through, the changes all the on-going actors in the film go through over a 12 year period.
It broke my heart that Linklater’s daughter lost her sparkle and spirit over the film, becoming flatter and flatter as she aged. I don’t want my daughter to lose her sassiness, but it calls into question whether it’s possible to retain even those core traits of childhood into adulthood. Ellar lost a lot of his sweetness. I started crying when he asked his father if there were real elves in the world. The ChickieNob and I had a similar conversation the other day about whether there was a real Hogwarts; real magic. Because you don’t want your child to lose that idea. As adults, we know how much it sucks to not believe in things anymore. I wanted to freeze Ellar in his youth.
But he had to age.
Just like we all have to age.
When I came home, I finally read things about the film. (I sort of wish I had read a bit before I went, though none of the reviews I read mentioned how it was almost 3 hours long. 3 hours, people!) Ellar never watched the footage until after the film wrapped and the whole thing came together. He admits,
I didn’t see any of the footage until it was wrapped. And it was brutal. It was very, very emotional, very cathartic. Not negatively, but just very emotional. I was laid out for a couple days, really. I think that’s kind of an elusive part of existence, the way you mature and they way you change and don’t change over time. I’ve always kind of wondered how much I change from day-to-day, much less years. To see that is very humbling in a way, just very settling. It’s hard to describe, but it’s easy to worry about who you are and what you’ve become and forgetting who you are. It’s reassuring in a way. Even though it’s not me, there is a lot of me in the character. So it’s kind of self-actualizing I guess, to see it all catalogued like that. I guess I am a person, after all. It’s still happening.
That’s why you should see the film.
It is so hard to see the changes, so hard to see aging when you’re in it. And yes, you can look back on old photographs and do Throwback Thursdays and scan family videos; but Linklater has presented a fictional scope of a life, and allowed the viewer to place themselves over each character since they are so thinly drawn. Yes, that is both a benefit and drawback of the film. Even with 3 hours, it’s hard to go deeply into any story. People marry, people divorce, friends come and go, and you never really get a feel for any of the relationships. Why did Mason get together with that girl? Why did they break up? Because the relationships and characters are so thinly drawn, you can mentally shunt almost all of them out of the way and replace them with yourself.
I don’t regret giving Linklater 3 hours of my life in exchange for 12 years of Mason Evans Jr. Linklater is at his best when he is capturing the moments that make a life: poking siblings and baseball games with your dad and sleeping over in your sister’s college dorm room. He is at his weakest when the characters start talking about the meaning of life, attempting to wax philosophical. Give us more pillow fights and fewer “deep thoughts.” But even when the movie slogs, there is still something magical about watching a character age.
Well done, Mr. Linklater.